I want to pick your brains
(Editors Note: Ruth Carol wrote this in 1972 when she was battling sex discrimination at Columbia University. Now retired, Ruth had a long career as a college teacher and professional nutritionist. Ruth Carol is the mother of Estelle Carol. Estelle is the coordinator of the CWLU Herstory Project and our website designer.)
An Autobiographical Sketch of A Professional Woman
I was a tomboy as a little girl and the "tomboy" complex remained as part of my way of thinking, until last year (1971) when I reached the age of fifty.
Before I relate my horror story of male chauvinism, let me define what I mean by a "tomboy" way of life. A tomboy is a girl or woman who is sharply conscious of the fact that in our society all of the privileges go to males. Every tomboy is thus, ipso facto, a feminist or women liberationist, consciously or unconsciously. A tomboy still believes that if she, personally, works ten to twenty times as hard as a male, with concomitant achievement, then she will ultimately get some kind of recognition, as a man would.
The story of my life was work harder and harder because only overachievement could gain, I thought, the professional recognition that men achieve, with considerable less effort and actual accomplishments on their part. I am one of those "lucky?' women who has enough energy and self discipline to raise four daughters in the suburbs of the New York Metropolitan area, while working at a full time professional job and completing a doctoral degree in Manhattan. It was my firm belief that in this way I would personally overcome my "handicap" of having been born female.
In 1941 I was not the typical Brooklyn College coed graduate, out to find a husband, and raise a family, as a housewife. This is precisely what I told one young man who asked to marry me when I was about eighteen years old.
Fortunately, I met a male feminist whom I married when I was twenty-one. We have led an androgynous, happy life and will celebrate our thirtieth anniversary this year, 1972. Not that this meant complete female liberation at home. Both of us still suffered even in our home life, because no one can escape the evil effects of the cultural milieu of male bigotry. This meant, that after our first daughter, Estelle, was born, I became "Just a housewife" for about a year. Then we thought a part-time job would permit me to fulfill myself professionally, and not deter from my maternal commitments. Neither of us were sufficiently advanced in our feminist thinking to recognize the male chauvinist trap we had fallen into.
It was not until Jeanne, our fourth daughter, was born that we realized that the various professional positions that I had held through the births of my first three children, not only were piddling in terms of money, but were in reality advancing me nowhere professionally. What I lacked, so we theorized, was an advanced degree, since a B.A., M.A., experience and professional publications did not appear to be enough. My husband took the initiative to phone Dr. Clara Taylor at Columbia University where I had started to work on a doctorate some thirteen years earlier, Her enthusiastic response finalized our decision.
So began the two hour trek from Seaford, Long Island to Morningside Heights in Manhattan. Never did I miss a class. During one wintry blizzard, I spent four hours traveling each way to take a final examination. Despite my outside jobs and studying, I spent all the "required" time with my one, three, seven and ten year old daughters. I studied with babies on my lap. When I was really desperate, I hid in the cellar so that I could complete my assignments. I even helped fellow students. One colleague came all the way from the Bronx to my home to review with me, which we did with the children howling about us.
Nine years later, at age forty-seven I was granted an Ed.D. in Nutrition Education. Graduation was such an important event that our three youngest daughters received permission from their teachers to remain out-of school to attend.
With a doctorate, twenty-five years of professional experience, and with some very special expertise (a professional record that even very few men can boast, of), nothing could possibly block appropriate recognition, advancement, and salary. Even my precise vocational plans as I had outlined them to-my advisor ten years earlier, were apparently coming to fruition. I was offered a faculty appointment at the Columbia University medical school to participate in research in the nutrition of pregnancy and infancy.
The naivete of our thinking became apparent shortly after I began to serve as the Specialist in Nutrition for the Prenatal Project. When salary was first mentioned at an initial interview, I honestly believed they could not pay me an appropriate salary because the budget was fixed for the year and since a promise was given that this would be remedied the next year, I accepted. They also managed to mollify me by granting me the privilege of continuing as lecturer in the medical school where I was affiliated prior to joining Columbia. But by the next year, not only had they conveniently forgotten their promise about my raise, but the budget suddenly shrank so that I found myself doing the work of four persons, since they could not hire sufficient personnel for the aspect of the project for which I was responsible.
The history of my life was beginning to repeat itself. Somehow, in all my past positions, no one ever had sufficient money for a salary commensurate with my education, experience and responsibilities I always seemed to work harder, longer and for less money than the male professionals. In addition. I always had to maneuver more than one job to get a salary that was a little more than ludicrous in comparison to those of the men. Just as at Columbia, in the previous medical school mentioned above, I drew my salary from three different sources.
Again as in the past, men set policy and were considered leaders of the project in all respects. Degrees, rank, knowledge all mattered little, since I was a woman. I soon discovered that not only did the male professionals of lesser rank collect a greater salary than I did, but they were assigned responsibilities in my area of nutrition although lacking the appropriate knowledge.
At times I felt as if someone was revolving the calendar backwards. A meeting was called which would have been most important for me to attend. When I realized I was not invited,I requested permission to come. My request was granted with the stipulation that I speak only when spoken to. Not only did this restriction place me in the category of a child (children are to be seen but not heard) but it reminded of when I had been the Research Nutritionist for a heart research project when I was considered too lowly to participate in staff meetings.
The director's actions constantly aroused flashbacks to my past. For instance, as a prelude to establishing the dietary procedures for the Prenatal Project, I did some preliminary research. This data served as the basis for a good deal of the policies set for the project. It is customary for material of this sort to be written up for publication by the person who carried out the investigation. When I noted that I needed time for this, the retort was the material was garbage, though it was incorporated in the total research and others had praised it highly. I could clearly recall a similar-incident in another position., My name had not been permitted to appear on a publication on diet and heart disease for which written acknowledgment was later made that stated that I had provided the date for a large portion of the article.
When at Columbia the director just picked and picked and picked my brains, it reminded of a previous director elsewhere, who had been more open in this respect. When this past director had been invited to participate in a workshop on nutrition, he simply phoned and said bluntly, "I want to pick your brains."
However, the calendar was rapidly moving forward in one very important respect. The year was 1969, three years after publication of Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique,. It was also three years after my oldest daughter had joined one of the first women's liberation groups at the University of Chicago. I had-been devouring books concerning women problems for some time. Finally my husband and I progressed so that we were able to recognize sex discrimination when I was the victim. We also became aware that degrees, experience, special knowledge, nothing could ram the barriers of male power, nothing except outright battle against sexism.
Also by this time we had experienced the exhilarating taste of victory over some local male bigots. When Susie, daughter number three, was ready to enter junior high school, we decided to campaign against the Great Neck policy of separating seventh grade boys into shop and girls into home economics. We were supported by the Long Island Chapter of NOW and the Citizens Association for Superior Education.
Because of the historical timeliness of the request, not a single member of the Great Neck Board of Education questioned our contention that home economics and shop should be integrated. But educational systems move slowly. Susie was given the right to select shop instead of home economics or art. She chose not to because she did not wish to be the only girl in the class. but this was just the opening shot of the battle. A few girls did take shop that year and the next. By the time Jeanne who is the youngest of our daughters was planning her seventh grade program, she signed up for shop more confident that other girls would too. However sexist counseling continued so the number of girls in shop were still few. Although Jeanne was one of the best shop students in her class, she had to survive as the only girl. If open school week was typical of what she had to go through each shop class, it was not easy. The male instructor insisted upon referring to the students in the class as boys even after I pointed out publicly that my daughter was in his class. Though our children did not get the complete benefit of our efforts in this area, many generations Of women will, because next year (1973) home economics and shop will be totally integrated in the Great Neck seventh grades.
Transferring this experience to the sex exploitation I was undergoing at Columbia, we decided the time was also ripe to militantly fight for job equality for women. I finally came to the full realization that neither I nor any other woman could hope to reach her full professional potential unless all women were freed from bondage.
Taking into consideration my personal and professional situation, my attack on male power in employment could have taken either of two directions. The first, which is the path most professional women take, would -have been to seek out another position where my denigration might not have been so intense or perhaps start a business of my own which would have removed me from under the male chauvinistic stifling domination. Then I could have continued to participate in various feminist movements. But my husband and I conjectured that I could play a more vital and telling role in the struggle for job equality. Since I had complete and dramatic documentation to support the charge of sex discrimination at Columbia University, the circumstance appeared Ideal for testing the enforcement of the laws and regulations which made job inequality for women illegal. I could safely disregard threats of blacklisting because of my established professional reputation and income was no problem.
When the situation became unbearable for me, I boldly went to the head of the division and charged the director with sex discrimination. Among other things, the-director had tried to equate me professionally with a totally inexperienced young woman who was studying for her masters degree. Although forced to officially backtrack from stipulating that she would have equal responsibility after one year, he continued to undermine our relationship.' This was a typical male chauvinist tactic. Sexists are never threatened by women on the lower rungs of the professional ladder. Pushing women down to the same low, level makes male chauvinists feel safe.
He repeated this same tactic with regard to other women. In the clinic area, clerks were asked to make the same liasons that I was. In his absence he always placed a male professional in charge. If no male was available to lead the staff meetings he asked a female paraprofessional to fill the role, since she was in too low a position to threaten his maleness,
The head of the division responded to my charge by apologizing for the director's behavior. He did actually discuss the matter if an effort to alleviate this aspect of the situation. But to no avail. If anything the sexism intensified. Several months later the female staff psychologist and I realized we were both being treated with. the same sexist disdain.
When both of us charged sex discrimination together, they become frightened that a pattern of sex discrimination was becoming evident. In an effort to avert this, I was asked to resign.
The director was so confident that I, a powerless, weak woman, would do his bidding even after this maltreatment, that he assumed I would continue on the job until I had set everything ready in the project and would resign at his convenience. To his dismay I refused to resign regardless of the dire consequences with which I was threatened. Emotionally the two male bosses were so upset by this turn of events. that they immediately sent me a letter of dismissal. That this action was taken in haste, was verified when they orally and in writing later asked me to remain on the project. I did so for six months until I was forced out.
The documentation which I have-filed with the Contract Compliance-Branch of the United States Department of Health,, Education and Welfare (HEW) is one inch thick. I am selecting just a few of the most lurid details to further illustrate the extent of the exploitation I was forced to bear because was' born with female sexual organs. I regularly worked from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on tuesdays, in addition to 9 to 5 the four other days of the week. Rarely did I have time for a lunch hour. Despite the, many additional hours I put into -the work I could never have possibly met the deadlines-required for good research on the project, Although the director was well aware of my excessive work load he stipulated that I was to join with the psychologist in the preparation of a project library. (Everyone knows that .library work is women's work.)
An assistant to one of the male professionals planned to resign because her total days assignments only filled two hours of the day. She would have rescinded her resignation had the to this committee. When every feminist organization supports each individual case of sex discrimination as well as all class cases in a united fashion as part of a national committee, the cases will be resolved quickly and fairly. In turn this will ultimately decrease the need for complaints because grievances will be resolved at a much earlier stage in the grievance machinery.
Perhaps before this anthology goes to print I will have the opportunity to write an addendum either describing the successful conclusion of my case or the successful formation of a National Coordinating Committee to Support Charges of Sex Discrimination or both.